A return to the conflict of the sandwich generation

I had to bring this back because in the last week, I have had three people share that they are struggling with this and I know so many others are trying their best to manage this as well.

It’s the day before we celebrate giving thanks and the phone rings. It is my 87-year-old mother-in-love. She tells me that her boiler broke in her home and she has no heat. My newly licensed driver, Nai’im (who drives like he’s been behind the wheel for years), jumps in the car with his older brother and scoops her up and brings her to our home. So begins a journey that we did not see coming.

For a myriad of reasons, this is turning out to be longer than a couple of night’s stay, one honestly, that I currently cannot put an end date to. So, it begins again, my life as a sandwich. While there are differences between the previous years of me experiencing the squeeze between raising children and caring for a sick and/or elderly parent, I feel it just the same. On this current journey, my 20 year old is here and able to help out and my oldest is in town for the holiday. On the other hand, my husband Warren, an only child, passed away in 2020 and is not here to navigate this with us.

But we all love and adore her and so I am on board for a sandwich with all the trimmings.

I’m not a fan of sandwiches, but I grew up during a time when a cartoon character became famous for his. They were called “Dagwoods” and they were piled high with every kind of meat, cheese and condiment that you could imagine. This sandwich was piled high over his head. That seems to be an accurate description for the life of those in my generation and even a decade younger.

Some of us are helping to raise grandchildren or taking care of parents and grandparents while still having to raise or support children, that is known as the triple decker. Either way, the common feeling I’ve heard expressed is “in over our heads.”

It is a lot to comprehend, schedule, manage and wrap your brain around. It can be overwhelming. This kind of lifestyle invites conflict pretty easily and sometimes unexpectedly. The Pew Research Center did a survey that showed 47 percent of adults in their forties and fifties have a parent age 65 or older and are either raising young children or financially supporting a child 18 years or older.

I have had to navigate these waters and also watched numerous friends and family in similar situations almost drown in them. The stress, the tension and the conflicts can threaten to shatter the best relationships. So, it is important to be prepared even if you are already in this sandwich.

Here are four ingredients that could help you digest all of this:

1. Address the Fear of What If?

Yes, in most cases you will be breaking culture to have this discussion. No one wants to deal with what if, but the truth is that on top of all the stress you already have, you will have so much more if you don’t. This means to get all of their paperwork in order now. Insurance, medical, wills, and yes, even funeral services. There I said it. The worst is out there. Straight talk helps. My dad was more than willing to write up his funeral service a decade before we needed it.

2. Enlist Help

You are not the only person going through this no matter how bad your story. My friend, Terri V. White at A Labor of Love Elder Care shares that in her work. There are so many stories out there and most of them involving people not reaching out for help or reaching out when they are so exhausted they can barely function. Getting help and information is important even before this happens to you.

3. Expect Opposition

Whatever is happening in your life, you can expect your children and other family members to push back, because there is not enough of you or your funds to go around. You can expect opposition from your parents and/or grandparents, because change is scary and losing independence is humiliating.

4. Schedule In Me Time

No matter what, something has to give. Learn to say no even when it is hard. Schedule time for yourself every day and be upfront about it. It is not selfish, it is urgent care for you. If you are not doing well, then everyone suffers.

We are living lives that are very different from our parents and if you are not there yet, then get a jump on this, because you will be one day. Handling these kinds of conflicts requires skill, patience and preparation, but even with that there can be enjoyment. We are greatly enjoying a straight-talking, sharp and comical, loving woman who is trying to understand the stress we are all suddenly under.

But we are all clear that just like that sandwich that Dagwood prepared, he knew that on top of everything he put in it that put it over his head, the main ingredient was love.

If you can relate, I’d love to hear from you.

We can get through this together.

Still giving thanks!

In love,
Dr. Lynne

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